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A Job Divided

Work part-time but still be a big shot Add to ...

Last year Kori LeBlanc, a clinical site leader for Toronto General Hospital’s pharmacy department, received an offer she couldn’t turn down: collaborating on research into new cardiac disease treatments. The project, she said, had “the potential to have quite an impact on how we care for patients.”

The part-time position was a wonderful opportunity, but she was already employed full time. So she asked her boss, Olavo Fernandes, the University Health Network’s director of pharmacy, about job sharing – an arrangement now offered by about 20 per cent of Canadian firms, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

Mr. Fernandes found a member of Ms. LeBlanc’s own team of pharmacists to partner with her. Christine Malmberg, who was already working part time to spend more time with her children, was promoted to do half of Ms. LeBlanc’s job. In place for about a year now, the arrangement – despite the challenges inherent in dividing a management role – is working well.

Mr. Fernandes’s readiness to accommodate Ms. Leblanc reflects the position of an increasing number of employers, said Glen Grant, a consultant at Langley, B.C.-based Human Resources FX. “As different generations look at new opportunities,” he said, “they have more employees coming to them and saying ‘Look, I’d like to cut down to four days a week,’ or whatever. They are good employees, they are dedicated, they understand the business, and it’s a great way to be able to keep them.”

In some ways, job sharing means the best of both worlds. If a full-time salary is not a concern, the appeal for employees is obvious, opening up the possibility of achieving a better work-life balance and spending more time with their families. It allows them to participate in other meaningful activities, as in Ms. LeBlanc’s case, or they can study or start a small business.

At the same time, as Mr. Grant points out, such employees “have an education and experience and they want the rewards of maintaining all that, as opposed to stepping out completely. It allows them to be pro-active and co-operative within a corporate environment and engage in that, but still have the balance.”

Job-sharing has traditionally proliferated in sectors like teaching, nursing or public administration. But, according to Mr. Grant, “One of the biggest changes is that it’s actually getting into leadership, management and supervisory roles.”

This can bring a whole new level of challenges. “In a leadership role, there isn’t a finite box around what that entails,” agreed Ms. LeBlanc, who now works as site leader two and a half days a week. Rather than a simple question of time and tasks, “you have responsibilities to the program,” she said.

As a result, job sharers need to communicate well with each other, including on their days off, to make sure bases are always covered. For Mr. Fernandes, this means they ought to lay out and document the terms, “and clearly communicate [them] to peer leaders and the team as well.”

Both human resources professionals and job sharers agree it’s crucial that both workers get along. “That’s one of the biggest things,” said Mr. Grant.

“One person can’t dominate the other,” said Mr. Fernandes, who is now opening another position in his unit to job sharing. “They have to make an effort to understand each other’s personalities.”

Aside from keeping a valued employee on staff, companies can benefit from a broader array of talents, background and perspectives. Both Mr. Fernandes and Ms. LeBlanc said that, with job sharing, one and one adds up to more than two. “Our productivity is greater,” said Ms. LeBlanc. “With two minds and two people looking at things, there is a synergy to the advantages of having two people doing one job.”

Employers may also see a decrease in absenteeism, as part-time workers tend to schedule appointments for the doctor or dentist on their days off. During vacations and holidays, there is no need to bring in a temp or retrain another staff member.

“The final thing is the recruiting perspective,” said Mr. Grant. “If 40 hours is all you’re able to offer, you are reducing your eligible potential work force. If you offer full-time and job-sharing opportunities, your market increases.”

After 15 years in human resources management, Hannah McKinnon of Pooling People Inc. is convinced that work sharing is a great idea. “I believe there are a lot of people out there who would jump at the chance of doing it, and would be so motivated they would blow your socks off,” she said.

Her business focuses on a niche aspect of work-sharing. “Its a business-to-business online community that brings overstaffed and understaffed companies together so that they can more effectively share their human resources,” she said, either through temporary lending or permanent transfer. Companies can purchase a membership, find either staff or corresponding employers, and make sharing arrangements set down in a contract.

Ms. McKinnon said she got the idea from her father, an architect, who noticed the burden on his company when project delays translated into idle staff. “And when people don’t have enough work,” she said, “they know that their boss knows that they don’t have enough to do. They start feeling insecure and start looking for a new job.”

But when the pace picks up again, those workers will be needed. “Meanwhile, the borrower gets a directly referred person, with no agency or recruitment costs,” she said.

Ms. Malmberg agreed that more employers should consider job-sharing arrangements. “I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity,” she said. “Employers should not just assume it’s not going to work because it’s never been done.”

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